Online Nickname: andreszarta

Introduction and Platform

Hi everyone! My name is Andres Zarta and this is my third year applying to be a judge at the Ennie Awards. I’m a 28-year-old Colombian aspiring computer scientist and recent immigrant to the US.

I enjoy teaching new players how to play RPGs, which represent so much of what I believe about art and creative expression and strive to welcome at my table anyone who’s looking to become someone else for a few hours, and help them find out if, in the process, they discover something true about themselves.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

I believe that role-playing games open up channels of interaction that society and the pressures of our Western culture seem to want to close. In a day and age where our social circles and communities seem to, perhaps accidentally, drive us more and more into participating within an echo chamber of self-reinforced repeating ideas, RPGs have the potential to transport us into a heightened fantasy where we can both be, at different times, objective observers and emotionally involved participants. They encourage us to look towards our deepest instincts as storytelling creatures and through narrative expression and exploration communicate and learn from others what ultimately unites us as human beings.

I think that in the last few generations our storytelling powers have suffered tremendously due to the relatively easy access to a passive, effortless and automatic consumption of entertainment media. Despite their many benefits, media services have had the side effect of slowly atrophying our creative muscles by limiting us to simply being passive content consumers. Role-playing games serve a crucial role in fighting against this loss of expression, as they challenge us to be more active participants of ours and others entertainment, and in this process engage us in reclaiming our creative powers. I believe that helping ordinary people (your friends, your coworkers, your mom and dad) reclaim these storytelling powers creates, ultimately, a better and more inclusive democracy. Quite philosophical, but it’s something I truly believe in.

The ENNIES requires a major commitment of time and energy. What resources do you have that will help you discharge these responsibilities? Will your gaming group or other individuals be assisting you? Does your family support you?

Role Playing is big part of how I spend my time and energy! I’m very fortunate in that a part of my income derives from the RPG sessions I lead in my job as well as a freelancer GM. Trying these new products and judging them is something that will naturally fall into place alongside my other responsibilities; I’ll make it a part of my job :).

Additionally, during the past few years I’ve been able to become highly involved with several online roleplaying communities that have formed as a result of the pandemic around the globe. I believe that reviewing and discussing these games should be a much more democratic process, with a lot more discussion and participation from different agents, and aside from pooling from my local group of players, I want to do my best to involve as many people as possible and ask them to help me try these products and join me in the process of interrogating their design.

Judging requires a great deal of critical thinking skills, communication with other judges, deadline management, organization, and storage space for the product received. What interests, experience, and skills do you bring that will make you a more effective judge?

As I’ve touched on before, in the past I’ve worked as a high school professor who taught an elective class that focused on understanding the elements of narrative structure through RPGs. I met for my sessions three times a week. I’m also proud to say that I have more than 15 years of experience as a GM, and have done so for both local friends in Colombia, as well as professionally during my college years in New York City.

My background is in filmmaking, and I have experience fulfilling the roles of producer and assistant director; roles that demand huge levels of organization, proper scheduling and good allocation of resources. I also worked as a freelancer podcast producer/editor has also taught me how to best organize a project from start to finish to make sure every single aspect gets the proper amount of attention it requires.

From my time learning Computer Science I’ve come to realize the value of data-driven decision-making, which is why I really want my judging to be a collaborative effort that, while coordinated by me, gathers views and opinions from a variety of players both in my home state of New York and abroad.

What styles and genres of RPGs do you enjoy most? Are there any styles or genres that you do not enjoy? Which games best exemplify what you like? Do you consider yourself a particular system’s, publisher’s, or genre’s “fanboy/fangirl/fanperson”?

I enjoy a little bit of everything; heavy tactical games, exploration sandboxes, deep and emotional narrative character exploration, and lighthearted party roleplaying.

I’m partial toward PbtA as it is the framework that more readily enables me to quickly generate the kind of gameplay I discussed in my second answer.

What games have you played in the past year? List up to 10 RPGs you have played the most. Which ones, if any, have you loved or hated?

Avatar Legends
Apocalypse World
Voidheart Symphony

Loved all of them!
While Oath Chronicles of Empires and Exile is typically classified as a board game, I think its design uniquely sits in a blurry boundary with RPGs and story-telling games. I’d like to see future designs like it be submitted for consideration this year!

Briefly summarize the criteria you will use for judging products in the different categories.

I judge games by looking at what their authors claim the games are about and seeing if the rest of the design is indeed working to fulfill that promise. That is my basic criteria for rooting out bad designs. If a game promises you something but features mechanics or procedures that go against it, it will surely be a weak design. This is partly because I’ve discovered that pitching the game’s promise to the players and having the game deliver on that promise leads to the best gaming experiences; nothing can replace a match of player buy-in, table consent, and the creative rewards that the game provides.

The most important element for me, however, is trying to notice if anything in the design is pushing the boundaries of game design in new and interesting ways. More than noticing what’s innovative, I want to see an author’s effort to challenge something that we might have taken for granted in our hobby and give it a compelling spin.

For categories of physical accessories, I’ll judge them based on how well they support, either through similarity or contrast, the rest of the design. For podcasts and blogs, I’ll judge the quality of their production as well as the level of insight that their content delivers.

How will you judge supplements or adventures for game systems whose core rules you are unfamiliar with or you believe are badly designed?

If I am honored by being selected as an ENNIES 2023 judge, I would be very excited to try two kinds of products: Especially good, highly anticipated ones, of course! But also, ones that are especially challenging and unfamiliar.

Those that I have preconceptions about being badly designed, are the ones I want to try the most, because I want to be positively surprised by what they can show me and always remain open to having my mind changed. For these types of products, I also want to learn about, interrogate and investigate the communities that do enjoy them and do my best to immerse myself into their world and their fun so that I have an informed perspective from which to judge.

Finally, not only do I want to GM personally most of these games, I’m very excited to leverage the human resources I have available in my wider gaming community and observe how other GMs deal with these products and the challenges they are facing. Having that impartial third-person view will definitely lead me to a deeper understanding of these products.

How would you like to see the ENNIEs change? What should remain inviolate?

If chosen as a judge, I would like to advocate for a more visible process and make the whole review procedure and discussion somewhat more transparent to the public and even a bit more participatory. I can imagine weekly online video meetings with the panel of judges, maybe through Twitch, Facebook Live, or some other kind of open forum where viewers can ask their questions, and where the judges openly discuss their experiences playing these games and engage in discussions of aesthetic value in a very open, conversational, and sincere way.

Be open with the public and show them how these opinions are being formed.

While I can’t guarantee that this is something that can be implemented for 2023, my commitment will always be to remain visible throughout the year and constantly share my insights and experiences with the wider community so as to have an open communication channel between the community’s sentiment and my own feelings and intuitions as a judge. That, I believe, is a perfect recipe to a more community conscious award.

Also, I think we ought to get in touch with those publishers who haven’t submitted their games in previous years and work with them to create bridges that allow us to evaluate their games by encouraging them to submit, while also offering them a degree of visibility that benefits their brand. A friendlier and, perhaps, less adversarial relationship with some publishers can only benefit both parties.

Something that should remain inviolate is for the ENnies to continue to be a great platform that displays and brings visibility to new indie products that are pushing the boundaries of the design space.

BONUS: (optional) If you were an RPG, what would it be and would you play it?

I would be the RPG I want to design one day:

A heroic fantasy game with a gamified combat system very much in the vein of D&D 4e. It would be inspired by the way Guild Wars 2 provides different power selections depending on the type of weapon or arcane focus a character selects. I want the necromancer with a grimoire to provide a tactically different experience than the necromancer with a scepter.

It would have narrative chasis for outside of combat, probably based on a lot of the PbtA ethos.